Sunday,24 February, 2019
Current issue | Issue 1387, (29 March - 4 April 2018)
Sunday,24 February, 2019
Issue 1387, (29 March - 4 April 2018)

Ahram Weekly

‘A national call’

Egyptians voted to the sound of patriotic songs blasting from loud speakers. Ahmed Morsy and Reem Leila observed the process

‘A national call’
Al-Ahram Weekly

Across Egypt, voters flocked to polling stations to cast their ballots. The three-day process saw a significant turnout among women and the elderly with youth taking a back seat in the third presidential elections since 2011. A festive atmosphere characterised polling stations with songs broadcast through loud speakers and bystanders waving the Egyptian flag. Many women were belly dancing in front of polling stations and vans, buses and taxis passed by festooned in the national flag.

There are 59 million registered voters in Egypt, according to the National Electoral Commission (NEC). The greatest concentrations are in Cairo governorate with 7.5 million, followed by Giza with 5.2 million, Sharqiya with four million and  Alexandria with 3.8 million.

‘A national call’

Casting his vote in Khaled Abu Ismail School in Alexandria’s Sporting district Abdel-Aziz Abul-Hassan, 71, a retired army officer, said: “I voted for Abdel-Fattah Al-Sisi as if I were voting for the stability and security of Egypt. This was not a simple presidential election. It is a patriotic carnival.”

“It is our duty to participate and be positive towards our homeland,” says Mustafa Mohamed, 61, as he arrived at the polling station on crutches. “The fact I can barely walk due to my knee injury didn’t stop me from voting.”

The Ministry of Interior’s Human Rights Department provided polling stations with wheelchairs to assist the elderly and people with disabilities to vote. The ministry also deployed female police officers to assist elderly women cast their ballots.

Ali Mohamed, 66, went to vote to show his support for President Abdel-Fattah Al-Sisi, not because he is worried Al-Sisi would not win. “I voted for Al-Sisi because he is not corrupt. I wish there were more officials in the government like Al-Sisi — loyal, honest and devoted to their work. He builds and develops for the coming generations.”

‘A national call’

That Al-Sisi is all but guaranteed victory over the only other candidate — Moussa Mustafa Moussa — to appear on the ballot paper has led some commentators to voice concern over the turnout.

At the end of the first day of voting Tarek Ihsan, the judge in charge of a polling station in Giza, said “only 480 voters from among the 8,000 registered here voted today but we still have two more days.”

In the Faisal district Hazem Fawzi, a taxi driver who was waiting outside the ballot station, said he would not vote. Asking “why would I cast a ballot for a candidate who is competing with himself?”

Running to the mosque for noon prayers after casting his ballot Sami Ahmed criticised those who refused to vote. “It is their constitutional duty, how can they abandon it?” he asked.

Nevine Ghoraba, a university professor who cast her ballot at 6 October, said she “hoped to find long queues waiting, but this was not the case”.

She voted for Al-Sisi because, she says, he is building new cities, dug a new branch of the Suez Canal and has established huge fisheries, the biggest in the Middle East. “But the most important thing,” adds Ghoraba, “is that he is fighting terrorism and bringing security, peace and safety back.”

During his first term in power Al-Sisi focused on infrastructure projects and introduced austerity measures which included cutting subsidies and raising tax revenues to reduce the budget deficit. While economic indicators are improving the economic reforms led to massive inflation.

“No one should be upset about this. We spent money recklessly on trivialities. Now we need to spend money far more carefully,” Ghoraba said.

Many voters were motivated by the urge to support the army and its efforts to fight terrorism. They said they wanted to send a message to the soldiers and officers in Sinai that the nation backs their efforts and sacrifices.

‘A national call’

“We support those who have been martyred and who are in the field. Our forces stand against every terrorist who is a traitor to a country,” said pensioner Ashja Ali in Mansoura, Daqahliya.

Two months ago Egypt launched a comprehensive military campaign to combat terrorism nationwide, but especially in Sinai.

Two days before the polls opened a car bomb in Alexandria, targeting the governorate’s security chief, killed two policemen. 

There was heavy security around the 13,000 polling stations nationwide with tens of thousands of army and police involved in securing the ballot. Armoured vehicles were stationed outside most polling stations.

Defence Minister Sedki Sobhi visited polling stations on Monday to check on security. He vowed the Armed Forces would deal firmly with any attempt to disrupt the election.

“Arrangements have been made to secure the election in all governorates using surveillance aircraft, aerial photography and direct broadcasting vehicles to convey a clear picture of events and immediately report any action that obstructs the vote to the main operation centre of the Armed Forces and sub-centres in the governorates,” Tamer Refaai, spokesman of the Armed Forces, said in a statement issued on Saturday.

‘A national call’

The Ministry of Interior monitored the vote from its operations room via video conference.

In some areas security was stepped up around and inside voting stations. In Menoufiya security and combat groups were stationed in front of polling stations and checkpoints were set up on the outskirts of large towns and cities, said Major General Ahmed Etman, Menoufiya’s security chief.

The Ministry of Health maintained emergency and crisis operation rooms throughout the vote to deal with any medical emergencies that may arise during polling. On Saturday, Minister of Health Emad Radi said the ministry would be deploying 2,400 ambulances at major polling stations during the elections.

Nadia Abul-Soud, a housewife in her 70s who lives in Al-Moaskar Al-Romani Street in Roushdi, the Alexandria district where a terrorist bomb targeted security chief Mustafa Al-Nemr’s convoy on Saturday, said “the terrorist attack didn’t frighten us or stop us voting for Al-Sisi”.

In Al-Raml district in Alexandria retiree Magdi Morsi believes “turnout is key” and opted to vote despite being certain Al-Sisi will win. “A high turnout is vital for us, for Egypt and our image. The whole world must see the positivity of Egyptians.”

Mahmoud Al-Sherif, head of the National Electoral Commission, said in a press conference at the end of the first day of voting that the turnout was high, especially in Cairo, Alexandria, Giza, Qalioubiya, Assiut, Aswan and North Sinai. 

Both state and private media outlets have been busy trying to persuade the public to head to the polls. In the 2014 presidential elections, which brought Al-Sisi to office, the vote was initially scheduled to last two days but was extended for a third day, pushing overall turnout from 37 to 47 per cent.

Though Cabinet Spokesman Ashraf Sultan said on Monday public employees would not be given a holiday since they would be able to vote either before or after working hours many companies, and some ministries, permitted employees to go and vote after signing in. 

Mohamed Wahaballah, the head of Egypt’s Workers Federation, told local media that the federation had set up an operation room to encourage workers to vote, and a hotline to communicate with trade unions and the directors of companies to lobby them to provide buses to transport workers to polling stations. 

Investors in 10 Ramadan city offered free buses to transfer the workers to polling stations. Other businessmen took things a step further. Former MP Mohamed Farid Khamis, head of the Egyptian Investors’ Federation, promised LE500,000 each for the two villages with the highest turnout in Sharqiya governorate.

The Salafist Nour Party mobilised members in Alexandria to vote for Al-Sisi, offering free transport to polling stations.

In Mustafa Kamel Industrial School, a polling station for women in Alexandria, Fatma Al-Sayed, a woman in her 70s, and her daughter Amal Abdel-Fattah, an accountant, were sitting in the hall of the school so the older woman could rest. Al-Sayed, who was waving an Egyptian flag, said: “I’m here to support our lion [Al-Sisi], a patriotic hero who is working hard to protect and develop our country.”

The voting process was a family affair with many women and men taking their younger family members along. Yasser Hassaballah, a lawyer in his 40s, brought his six-year-old son with him. “In spite of the terrorist attack in Alexandria I not only decided to come and vote but I also brought Yassin, my son,” said Hassaballah.

Though they were far from being the majority, some young people did vote. In Assiut, Shaimaa Mohamed, a student at the Faculty of Medicine, said she wanted to participate for the benefit of her country. Standing in a line to vote is much better than being a refugee in some other land, she said, and she wanted to express her gratitude for Al-Sisi’s efforts to keep Egypt from meeting the same fate as Libya and Syria and other Arab countries torn by civil and proxy wars since the Arab Spring.

In Assiut the Egypt Women Campaign was launched in an effort to urge women in villages to vote “to contribute to the construction of modern Egypt,” said Nabila Dhahi, secretary-general of the campaign.

“We do not have the luxury of trying out a new president,” said Samia Ibrahim, a voter in Alexandria. “Everyone knows Al-Sisi will win but we have to vote for him to tell him ‘you are right’.”

Ibrahim wants Al-Sisi to do more for innocent people in prisons. “I know from time to time he issues presidential pardons but I’d rather the innocent did not have to wait for national holidays and religious celebrations to be release,” she said.

In the case of no run-off the winner will be announced on 2 April, 2018.

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